4 Questions for Debriefing and Learning

Four key questions by which to learn from your experiences!

We often get so involved in doing the work, that we rarely make the time to review how we are doing in a structured and creative manner that allows us to extend our curiosity into what has happened, and to learn why. In short, we rarely take the time to debrief and when we do so, we generally do it poorly.

Debriefings can help you accelerate projects, innovate new approaches to problems, and hit difficult objectives. More than a casual conversation about what did and didn’t work, a debriefing digs into why things happened.

“Two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe” – ALBERT EINSTEIN

A debrief should review four key questions:

1.What were we trying to accomplish? Start by restating the objectives you were trying to achieve.

2.Where did we hit (or miss) our objectives? Review your results, and ensure the group is aligned and has a shared understanding of what has happened.

3. What caused our results? This should go deeper than obvious, first-level answers. You need to go beyond the symptoms and get to the underlying causes of your results. A good way to do this is to use the Five Whys Tool.  Here you take the first-level result, and ask “Why did we achieve this result?” This exposes a second-level item. Ask the same question again. You normally do not need to ask this question more than five times.

Example:

Results:  Sales down by 25% compared to the same time last year.

Why? #1 – Because the market is more competitive.

Why is the market more competitive?

Why? #2 – Customer demand for our products is down

Why has customer demand reduced?

Why? #3 – The market price has come down and we are charging a high price.

Why are we unable to sell our quality products for a higher price?

Why? #4 – Because the sales force lacks the skills to sell the value of our product.

Why is the Salesforce unable to sell on value?

Why? #5 – Because we don’t hire the right people with these skills, or develop these skills in our existing sale team.

Solution: to address the fall in sales we need to train, equip and incentivize our sales people to sell on value, not on price.

1. What should we start, stop, or continue doing? Given the root causes uncovered, what should we do next, now that we know what we know?

Debriefing provides you and your team with a structured learning process that allows you to continuously evolve plans while they’re being executed in the light of your experience and results.  This helps you to learn quickly in rapidly changing situations and to address mistakes or changes quickly and effectively.

Remember, no plan goes to plan – never. We need to learn to adapt, and we need to adapt to survive, and we need to survive if we are to thrive.  Debriefing is an ongoing process that needs to be built in as a core part of your work, not something that is ancillary to it.

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Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How Middle-Management is at Risk

Why middle-management is essential for business survival and the risks you run of if you lose or alienate them.

The Challenges of Middle ManagementMiddle management.  Often described as the ‘backbone’ of the company, they provide the continuity across the business and the key people for getting things done; communicating and resolving problems up, down and across the line; translating strategy into action; leading key operational areas; have considerable expertise and experience within the business; providing linkages between senior executives and front-line staff; and are implementing and responding to change.

As such, middle management is crucial to the on-going success and survival of the business.  Senior executives are starting to appreciate their role and the impact of their work, but at a time when it becoming harder to develop and retain middle management.

Middle Management Stress & Turnover

In a recent poll by Lane4 in the UK (July 2012) more than 90% of workers believed that the vast majority of workplace stress was falling on middle management, and two in five (39%) of middle management reported that they were under severe stress.  As such, many mid-level managers are dissatisfied and would like to leave their current organization.   In harder times it is those middle managers who are your best and who perform well who find it easiest to find new roles and new opportunities.

This has several impacts on your business: firstly, the business will lose its top middle management talent, this will put an increase burden on those who are left behind; secondly, the exodus of mid-level talent seriously compromises the business’ future  leadership pipeline and its ability to have the right people in the right place to enable the business to grow and develop in the future; and finally those mid-level managers remaining will be the low-performers, who are more likely to be disengaged and who have “quit and stayed”.  All of this means that business’ ability to survive and thrive – especially in challenging times – is seriously compromised.

The Impact of Mid-Management Turnover

One of the current major growth challenges facing CEOs is the lack of key talent to enable them to grow the business.  This is exacerbated with the turnover of good mid-level manager as it compromises the business’ ability to execute the CEO’s strategy and drive results and outcomes.

Furthermore, the costs of middle management turnover are also high.  A common rule of thumb is to assess the cost of a middle manager to the bottom-line at one-and-a-half to two times their annual salary.  Assuming an average salary of $125,000 then this could mean $250,000 off your bottom line.  Alternatively, look at it in terms of the extra revenue you need to achieve just to stand still – assuming your net profit is 10%, then that is a further $2.5m of revenue required!

Practically, I think this heuristic is conservative.  Once you take into account the corporate knowledge, experience, expertise and insights that have been developed over a number of years you are looking at the loss of a very valuable contributor.  Furthermore, to recruit someone who is an equivalent is both difficult and expensive to do.

Causes of Mid-Management Stress

Middle management is under increasing stress for a number of reasons.  They are the people who have to lay off staff when the company downsizes (or more cynically “right-sizes”), in an environment of poor morale, having to do more with less, with little or no increase in salary or benefits whilst being responsible for more, a reduced opportunity for career progression, dealing with people who like them are worried and scared, and frequently being seen as an “unwanted layer” and at a high risk of being laid off themselves (often having had to lay off others first).

So what do we do?

Dealing with the Problem

In challenging times we need to maintain our middle management.  In economies which are struggling the senior executives need to work with and engage with their middle management even more closely.  It is at the mid-levels that the most important projects are, and reducing their resourcing is nigh on suicidal.  If the level of responsibility for middle management is extended, and their capacity and resources is limited or reduced, then you need to invest in their developing the necessary capabilities.  If this is not done then senior management will be faced with a “frozen” middle management compounded by cycles of low morale and low engagement.

Companies need to be resilient – leaders need to provide clear direction, they need engage the middle management and rebuild trust, and in doing so enable them to engage with their reports and teams in turn.  If you cut out the middle, then you are just left with the head and tail of the business – unable to do the necessary work effectively, and a corpse all but in name.

It may seem counter-intuitive but now is the time to invest in your middle management – this will pay off in terms of loyalty, results and longer-term growth.  Treat your key people as an investment, not a cost to be cut but people to be valued, developed and through whom you can achieve leverage and significant returns.

So what are you going to do?

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How Learning Drives Performance

High performance is not just about achieving, but learning!

In the current environment we can no longer depend on what we have always done to achieve what we have always got. In short, we have to shift from focusing on what we achieve to focusing on how we achieve it. If you depend on behaving in the same way to get the results you want you will be sorely disappointed.  You may sustain results in the short-term, but not in the long-term.

How would it be for you if you organized your time, energy, and resources primarily around the objective of learning, instead of around performance? How would your day be different? For many people, their daily activities – what they do and how they go about doing it – would be dramatically changed.

In an environment of accelerating change we can no longer view ourselves as experts – our knowledge, experience and insights have an increasingly short shelf-life.  Rather we have to learn and challenge ourselves on an on-going basis.  Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, viewed himself not as a definitive expert on retailing but as a lifelong student of his craft, always asking questions and taking every opportunity to learn. We need to do the same

Becoming a learning person certainly involves responding to every situation with learning in mind. But it involves more than that; it requires that we set ourselves explicit learning objectives. Look at your personal list of long-term objectives, your midterm objectives, and your current to-do list. How many items fall into the performance genre and how many fall into the learning genre? How many begin with the structure “My objective is to learn X,” rather than “My objective is to accomplish Y”? Most people operate off of to-do lists. They’re a useful mechanism for getting things done. A true learning person also has a “to-learn” list, and the items on that list carry at least as much weight in how one organizes his or her time as the to-do list.

There is a company in California called Granite Rock, a stone, concrete, and asphalt supplier which has institutionalized the idea of having learning goals.  Rather than having performance goals each employee is asked to set his or her annual objectives in the format:

Learn __________ so that I can __________.”

By doing this people looking to not only improve themselves in what they learn, but in how they apply it.  This is key.  If you cannot use what you have learnt then it will not help you perform. Similarly, if all you do is focus on performing then you will never learn, and if you never learn you will be unable to adapt, and if you cannot adapt you will become irrelevant and obsolete.

It is not a matter of performance or learning, it is about learning and performance where learning is the oil which, when applied, improves the performance engine. If you let the performance engine run at full throttle with no oil you will end up with a broken engine, a broken business and broken people.

My question to you is this: what are you going to do to build learning and its application into the core of your business?

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Getting People to Meet Their Goals

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.” – OSCAR WILDE

deadlinesHow often have you found yourself in a state of anxiety rapidly approaching a deadline or goal that needs to be achieved?  Most people have been in this state, some seem to live in this state on a perpetual basis.

There are two ways you can deal with a goal or deadline. You can start early and small, or late and big. ‘Early and small’ means you start at the earliest possible time with the minimum possible investment of time; ‘large and big’ occurs when you start at the last minute and invest a disproportionately large amount of efforts and resources – think of when you were at college and pulled an all-nighter to get an assignment in on time.

In research carried out by Dan Ariely, a leading behavioral economist, students who were starting a class, were told they would have to submit three papers over the twelve-week semester.  The deadlines for when these papers were due were to be determined by the individual students themselves, however, they had to be in before the end of the semester.  However, the students had to commit to their deadline for each paper and these could not be changed. Any deadline that was missed would be penalized at the rate of one percent off the grade for each day it was late.

Now a perfectly rational student would set all the deadlines for the last day of class. But what if the students procrastinated? What if they knew that they were likely to fail? If the students were not rational and knew it, then they might set early deadlines and by doing so force themselves to start working on the projects earlier in the semester.

The majority of students committed to earlier deadlines and the research found that this ability to commit resulted in higher grades.  More generally, it seems that simply providing students a tool by which they could pre-commit publicly to deadlines helped them achieve their goals.

So what does it mean for you if you are looking to achieve a goal or meet a deadline?

There are two things you can do:

1. Make a public commitment as to when you will achieve the goal or meet the deadline before it is due.

2. Make a start now – take your goal or deadline and ask yourself “What is the minimal amount I could do right now to prepare?” Whatever your goal or deadline start now, just spend five minutes and put down your ideas.  This will help you to get ahead and to meet your goals and deadlines.

Try this for yourself and share it with your colleagues and team.  Just doing something small can help you realize goals and meet deadlines without having to resort to being rushed.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

4 Steps to Build Your Career Effectively

Tips on planning your future career

Successful executives are not just successful because they do a good job, but because they look to build their own career. This does not happen but by chance, but with forwarding planning. As such business executives can learn useful lessons from those engaged in politics.

This is not to say that those who have successful careers are Machiavellian by nature – manipulating or using others will only hurt you in the long run – but rather that they take the time to build authentic relationships, improve your work skills, and provide real value to others. Being successful at office politics does not mean that you have to compromise your integrity. The best politicians model good career development behaviors in that they:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Reach out to supporters
  3. Build and exercise influence, and then
  4. Execute relentlessly to achieve their ambitions.

In short, you need to devise a campaign plan for your career.

You may be busy in your day-to-day work, however, if you ignore developing your career then this is at your own peril. By their very nature organizations are inherently political entities, and anyone who ignores those dynamics becomes subject to the vagaries of others. If you want to be successful you need to identify what you want to achieve and develop a plan for getting there.

Your Future Resume

This is a useful way of helping you identify what you need to achieve in order to realize your long-term goals. Determine where you want to be in the next 5 to 10 years. Be clear and specific. Now, for that position, rewrite your resume for those positions five or 10 years out. Ask yourself these types of questions:

  • What education will I have obtained?
  • What experience will I need to reach these positions and roles?
  • What committees and/or organizations will I have belonged to?
  • What will my interests be?
  • What am I doing my spare time?
  • Who will I have met and known who has helped me to reach this position?
  • Who will I need to know or meet who can help me develop the necessary skills contacts and relationships for my next position or role?

Answering these questions helps you to get some clarity around what the focal point is around which you need to focus your efforts. Look at the people who are good role models for what you are looking to achieve. This will allow you to gain a broader and more inclusive perspective on the longer-term strategies you need to develop, rather than just looking at the short-term tactics you might use.

STEP 1: Setting Key Goals

Key Steps in Developing Your Career Campaign Plan

  1. Identify your goal–what do you want to achieve and by when? Be specific. You can periodically update your plan – or create a new, rewritten résumé – to match your changing goals.
  2. Focusing on your end goal, write down the dates that you consider crucial. For example, these might include annual performance reviews, project completion dates, application deadlines or other target dates. Beginning with the end in mind work back from the end goal date to where you are today. This will help you identify what you need to do today is aligned with helping you achieve what you want in the longer term
  3. Take Stock of Yourself.Three simple steps you take include:
    • Identify the skills acquired by others who have reached your goal.In order to grow and develop you will need to change. You need to be clear on the skills capabilities, capacity, and experiences that you will need as well having the resilience and underlying attitude to help you succeed. This can be difficult to ascertain. So ask people, especially those who you aspire to be, about their experiences and how they moved up the ladder. Take what you can learn from them and see what you can apply that is most useful and relevant.
    • Determine what skills you can learn on your own. For the rest, figure out how long formal study will take.Build time into your schedule for the skills you want, cultivate. If you don’t make the time, to begin with then you will never have the time to grow how you need to and you become frustrated and disappointed.
    • Chart your skills development plan on your campaign calendar.Make it visible and plan it out. Print off monthly calendars for the duration of your planned career campaign so you can see what you have to do, by when, and how you are progressing.

STEP 2: Reach out to Supporters

Direct Power – know who you need to know

A lot of your success will come through your relationships with others. You need to ask yourself:

  • “Who are the people who have the greatest power and influence over where I want to go and what I want to do?”
  • “Who do I need to know and meet with and why?”
  • “What do I want them to feel, think and say about me? From this what do I want them to do?”
  • “How can I help them and be of use to them?” (it is a two-way street after all)

STEP 3: Build and Exercise Influence

Key People – Draw up a Power-Map

This is a simple tool that allows you to map out your key relationships (or lack of) with the key people you need to influence. Draw a map, with you at the center, and how you are linked to them (directly or indirectly), and who you need to go through to reach other people. Colour-code them: green for your allies, yellow for people you know slightly, and red for people you don’t know. From this, you can identify who and where you need to develop relationships, who needs to know you that doesn’t know you, and who knows you who can help you.

Indirect Influencewho are the people who although they lack formal power or authority are influential. For example, whose opinion does your boss value? Knowing this can help you to use the right messenger in persuading the key person with the power and formal authority.

Key Groups – think about which groups will help you connect with the people you want to meet—potential clients, higher-ups at your company, industry thought leaders—and eschew commitments that waste your time or yield minimal returns.

Here are some concrete steps for pinpointing who can help you in your career campaign:

  • Draw a power map, using circles that show who has the most influence over your career—and, in turn, the people who have the most influence over them.
  • Figure out what you can offer the influential people—expertise, assistance on a project, help with networking—and ways to cultivate unique knowledge or skills they’d find valuable.
  • Make a list of the groups you should join because they hold sway or will allow you to meet key contacts.

STEP 4: Executing

In putting your strategies and actions into practice with the people you need to target you know need to build and maintain a relationship with them. Establish quarterly progress goals for yourself.  Think about what you are doing that is relevant for them to spend 15 minutes with you.  Make sure you are highly visible, especially when meeting with prominent people – it will help to make you more interesting and attractive to others, this makes it easier to meet with them. Try and create an “echo” for your name – make sure everyone hears your name everywhere whether it be articles, blogs, social media, presentations, reports, conferences etc.  Key in doing this is to build the relationship first so that when you need their help later then they will be willing and know how to help you best.

Bring It All Together

Now you know what you are looking to do, with whom, how and by when – and with a clear outcome in mind – you need to bring it all together. Condense it into a clear plan with all the elements, the dates, and actions. Review it regularly and adapt it to you and/or your environment change.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

 

Using the Leadership/Management Matrix to Develop Your People

Leadership and management may complement each other, but they are very different

So which is more important, management or leadership? This is not the right question to ask, rather the question to ask what is the balance between management and leadership that you need to have? To answer this, you need to at what role each plays. Management ensures the stability and efficiency necessary to run today’s business reliably. Leadership creates the change needed to take advantage of new opportunities, to avoid serious threats, and to create and execute new strategies. The point is that management and leadership are very different, and when organizations are of any size and exist in environments which are volatile, both are essential to helping them win.

The Leadership/Management Matrix

The management/leadership matrix show what happens when you have weak or strong leadership interacting with weak or strong management.  The four quadrants are:

  • Doomed – weak management, weak leadership.  Here the business is run inefficiently and with no clear direction to guide and align people’s efforts, decisions and the allocation of resources.  People are not inspired or motivated to achieve high-performance, and the business is losing to its competitors.  The business is unlikely to survive beyond the short-term.
  • Innovative – weak management, strong leadership. Here the business is able to adapt quickly and effectively, but there is insufficient management and associated skills in place to drive stability, efficiency and to create the necessary order to manage the resulting complexity and create order from which to build.
  • Well run but bureaucratic – strong management, weak leadership.  Here the business is well-structured and managed; it works efficiently which is good while the status quo exists.  However, in an environment of change it finds itself relatively rigid and inflexible with its existing bureaucracy and organization being unable to adapt effectively.  This can expose the business with existing strengths potentially becoming major liabilities, potential competitors going unrecognized or changes in customer needs going unmet.
  • Well run and innovative – strong management, strong leadership.  Here there is a healthy balance of management and leadership skills and capacity.  The business has a clear direction around which everyone and all actions are aligned, people are inspired and motivated, and as a result they work both efficiently and effectively.  They are competitive, adaptive and have the right mix of skills, capacity enabled by a strong business culture which supports the people in their work.

Look at this matrix and, for you and your team, assess their level of management and their level of leadership.  People do not need to be a manager or a leader per se, nor is it about their position in their hierarchy. Rather it is how good they are at delivering on and exemplifying the attributes got management and leadership (see the table below for ideas).

Score yourself and each of your team members on leadership and management using the following scoring range of 0 (very weak) to 10 (very strong).  The two scorings will give you each individual’s relative positioning and your own.  A good idea is to assess people yourself, then get them to self-assess, and then to share your respective findings and discuss the differences/similarities. This is a good tool to identify where and how an individual needs to develop their management and/or leadership skills. This can then be used in helping put together their personal development plan.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Guidelines for Managing Conflict Successfully

Six key guidelines to manage conflict effectively

When dealing with a conflict you want to manage it effectively.  Conflicts are difficult to resolve as resolutions are rarely reached which everyone is happy with.  A conflict that is well-managed provides the basis for an approach that everyone will accept, commit to and action. Remember, you want to achieve the best outcomes possible whilst preserving and building on your existing relationships.

There are six things to do:

  • Focus on the position, not the person – you want to focus on what the underlying problem is.  Often the other person is not just being difficult, but has real and valid reasons for their position.  Focus on their position and reasons, don’t focus on the person – it makes the disagreement personal and adversarial, and brings people’s emotions into play.
  • Seek first to understand before you are understood – focus on where the other person is coming from. Try to understand their thoughts, feelings and position.  Once you have understood this, and have checked that your understanding is correct, then you are better positioned to explain your position and to do so from their context,
  • Relationships are your first priority – you need to build mutual understanding and trust.  A good relationship is a necessary precursor for a good outcome. If you lack this then you will not achieve a good relationship or a good outcome.
  • Listen – you need to listen actively  to what the other person is saying, checking for understanding, clarifying where necessary, and ensuring that what is said is what was heard, and that what was heard was what was meant.
  • Jointly establish the objective – what do you both want to achieve from the conflict? Doing this will allow you to scope out the extent of your conversation, to determine what factors are important and relevant, to help prioritize your goals, and to focus and align your efforts.
  • Develop and explore options together – either or both of your preferred choices may not be suitable, or can be improved upon.  Creating new options opens up the conversation and stimulates your collective thinking in finding a ‘best-fit’ alternative on which to agree.

By following these rules, you contentious discussions can be kept positive and constructive, and antagonism and dislike which can exacerbate the conflict can be prevented.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.